James Hibberd
December 22, 2017 AT 08:16 AM EST

The X-Files creator Chris Carter was directing the finale of the veteran sci-fi drama’s upcoming season when The New York Times published its startling scoop on Sunday that read like something straight out of his show: The government recently had a five-year secret program investigating UFOs. Moreover, some of those involved in the program who were interviewed are fairly convinced extraterrestrial life has visited Earth (“there is very compelling evidence that we may not be alone,” as one former Pentagon official put it). Plus, there was a video (below) released of an unidentifiable object sighting that was backed up by interviews with U.S. Navy pilots. And like the cliffhanger of a proper serialized sci-fi mystery, the reports stopped just shy of saying anything conclusive on the key question of whether intelligent extraterrestrial life exists.

Carter, who has been rather knee-deep in this subject matter for quite some time, wasn’t exactly surprised by the headlines. Below the writer-producer took a break from his directorial duties to chat exclusively with EW.com about this new truth which is now out there.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Obviously there were government UFO studies in the past, like Project Blue Book, which ended in 1970. But this must be surreal for you — after 25 years of telling an ongoing fictional story about a group within the government that secretly investigates UFOs … to find out there’s a group within the government that’s been secretly investigating UFOs.
CHRIS CARTER: Right, yeah, there have been projects before — Project Blue Book was a real thing. So while you call [the show’s basis] fiction, it wasn’t science fiction. Now that this story has come out, it is some validation. But I still say it’s being treated like it’s tabloid news.

You think news organizations aren’t taking the revelations as seriously as they deserve?
One of the problems is that until UFOs become IFOs [Identified Flying Objects], so to speak, people are going to take it all with some level of suspicion.

Still, the Times story was probably the closest I’ve seen a credible journalistic organization tiptoe up to saying “hey, aliens are real” without actually doing that. What were your thoughts reading the reports?
Well, when you see the Defense Department has a secret program that’s funded to the tune of $22 million dollars by politicians that are supposed to represent our public interest, and doing it in secret, you gotta report on these things. And when you have videotape of pilots looking at things that are undeniably unidentifiable, you have to report that as news.

You’ve always presented the show as entertainment but along the way did you ever hear of things backchannel that credibly suggested there might be some reality to UFO reports?
Yes. I visited the Pentagon several years ago and it was clear something else was going on there. I met with somebody whose job was part of a group that was roughly in the same area as described as the fifth floor of the C Ring [where the recent UFO project was run]. Their job is to think about the future and where the U.S. will be in the future, what its interests will be, and what they’ll need to defend — and everything had to do with space and off-planet. Without them actually saying “aliens,” there was a suggestion that they were more than earthbound researchers.

On this subject there are always two questions, right? Does intelligent extraterrestrial life exist? And if they do exist, have they ever visited Earth? What’s your take?
I’m a skeptic by nature. I’ve never seen a UFO. I’ve never seen an alien. But I’ve talked to way too many people I consider honest and credible who have. I just spoke to somebody in the last couple months who has seen [UFOs] twice in Mexico. And he says they move too fast and they are too otherworldly to call aircraft of this world.

I suppose another question moving forward is: Are we now caught up to speed on what the government knows about UFOs? Or is there more come beyond these reports?
The New York Times piece hinted that they actually have recovered materials. So when those facts might spill out, we might get material confirmation there’s something going on. Until that time, until we have credible scientists telling us this material is otherworldly, I think short of aliens visiting us, that will be the next revelation.

How would people react I wonder? I suspect a large percentage still wouldn’t believe it without a UFO landing in Central Park.
Yes. Imagine the impact on religion. On belief. You can throw so many things out. Certainly our anthropocentric view of the world.

You frequently use real-life news footage and headlines in the show. Will any of this make it into the new season?
This revelation is coming a bit late for this season. But this is something that’s been part of the series from the beginning. And in the last event series [in 2016] and in this one we touch on many things directly that are now being reported as news.

Do you mean there are things within last season and the new one that are part of these current reports that you had previously heard about?
Yes. I’ve attended conferences. People would consider them to be conspiracy-minded folk. But there’s idea that there’s a secret space program — which is another thing the Times piece hinted at — that NASA and this guy Robert Bigalow are working on space systems that might take people into outer space. Now why those programs are secret and are being pursued is of great interest to me and we touch on it this season. But I still think our first contact with something extra-planetary and microscopic and perhaps even lethal. Bioterrorism is something no one talks about when people talk about terrorism and that’s also something we dive into this season.

The X-Files returns to Fox for 10 new episodes starting Jan. 3.

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